The Kenai Peninsula is a large peninsula jutting from the southern coast of Alaska. The name Kenai is derived from the word “Kenaitze”, the name of the Native Alaskan tribe that historically inhabited the area.
The peninsula extends approximately 150 miles (240 km) southwest from the Chugach Mountains, south of Anchorage. It is separated from the mainland on the west by Cook Inlet and on the east by Prince William Sound. Most of the peninsula is part of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Gerasim Izmailov was the first European man to explore and map the peninsula in 1789, though Athabaskan and Alutiiq Native groups have lived on the peninsula for thousands of years.
The glacier-covered Kenai Mountains (7,000 ft/2,130 m) run along the southeast spine of the peninsula along the coast of the Gulf of Alaska. Much of the range is within Kenai Fjords National Park. The northwest coast along the Cook Inlet is flatter and marshy, dotted with numerous small lakes. Several larger lakes extend through the interior of the peninsula, including Skilak Lake and Tustumena Lake. Rivers include the Kenai River, famous for its salmon population, as well as its tributary, the Russian River, the Kasilof River, and the Anchor River. Kachemak Bay, a small inlet off the larger Cook Inlet, extends into the peninsula’s southwest end, much of which is part of Kachemak Bay State Park.
The Kenai Peninsula has many glaciers in its eastern and southern areas. It is home to both the Sargent Icefield and Harding Icefields and numerous glaciers that spawn off them.
The peninsula has a coastal climate that is relatively mild, with abundant rainfall. It is one of the few areas in Alaska that allows for agriculture, with a growing season adequate for producing hay and several other crops.
Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula is, in geologic terms, still quite “young,” since its entire land mass was covered by glacial ice as recently as 10,000 years ago. Much of that frozen blanket still exists today, in the form of the more than 800-square mile Harding Ice Field, which the refuge “shares” with Kenai Fjords National Park.
6000 B.C. Sometime around this time the first humans set foot on the Kenai Peninsula
1200 B.C. Eskimos are living along the Kenai Peninsula’s western coast.
1000 A.D. About this time the Dena’ina Indians moved onto the western Kenai Peninsula. 1741 Vitus Bering’s expedition marks the first European contacts with Alaska.
1778 James Cook brought the first sailing ships into the inlet later named for him.
1848 Petr Doroshin, a Russian mining engineer discovered gold on Kenai Peninsula
1867 Russia sells Alaska to the United Stated. Alaska becomes a U. S. territory.
1886 Miners meet near Fox River and organized a mining district called “The Cleveland Mining District” this was to include all of the Kenai Peninsula
1897 First sport hunter arrived on Kenai Peninsula. Dall DeWeese from Canon City, CO.
1902 The Northwest Mining and Development Company on Indian Creek, a tributary of Kussiloff Lake had a sawmill in operation and a gasoline launch on the lake.
1904 Forest Ranger William A. Langille made a reconnaissance of the Kenai Peninsula traversing the peninsula from Seward to Seldovia, and during this trip he realized the unique value of the land as a wildlife and hunting preserve.
1907 Chugach National Forest was created.
1909 Chugach National Forest expanded to include the land from the Copper River on the east to Cook Inlet on the west, then to Kachemak Bay on the south, and all the Chugach Mountains to the north.
1914 During low water on Kenai River, while the boulders were exposed, the licensed guides of the Kenai Peninsula decided to clear out a channel between the Kenai Lake and Skilak Lake.
1917 An Act placing a bounty of fifty cents on eagles was approved. 1926 Alaska Glacier Tours Association had its first party of big game hunters. They hunted in the Tustumena Lake region.
1927 A power boat mastered Kenai River currents using a six-horse outboard motor. Big Game Guide Andy Simons completed a trip from Cook Inlet to Kenai Lake in 16 hours.
1932 Areas north of Kenai River and Skilak Lake were closed to moose hunting, and the bag limit on sheep was reduced from two to one.
1940 The Fish and Wildlife Service was created by combining the Bureaus of Biological Survey and Fisheries.
1941 Kenai National Moose Range established. This establishment was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in December 16, 1941, just 9 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
1947 Forest fire burned 300,000 acres on the Kenai National Moose Range.
1951 The Sterling Highway connected the Kenai Peninsula to the rest of Alaska.
1956 The Fish and Wildlife Service is renamed the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with two bureaus, the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries. Management of wildlife refuges falls to the former.
1956 Development of the 8,000-acre Swanson River Oil and Gas Field begins.
1957 Oil discovered within the Swanson River Field by the Richfield Oil Corp. On July 19, 1957. The location was near a lone hemlock tree.
1959 Alaska became the 49th State.
1959-1966 Approximately 1500 miles of seismic trails were made on the Kenai NWR.
1964 Three townships removed from the Kenai National Moose range to allow for homesteading, and the administrative boundaries are pulled back from the Cook Inlet except along Turnagain Arm.
1965 Development of the 1,200 acre Birch Hill Oil and Gas Field begins.
1965 Caribou reintroduced from the Nelchina herd after being extirpated from the Kenai Peninsula in 1912. Wolves coincidentally recolonize the peninsula after being extirpated in the 1940s.
1966 National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act creates the present National Wildlife Refuge system.
1966 Kenai Moose Research Center established cooperatively with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
1967 Development of the 5,000-acre Beaver Creek Oil and Gas Field begins.
1969 Forest fire burned 80,000 in the Kenai National Moose Range.
1980 The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act re-designates the Kenai National Moose Range as the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge including the establishment of 1.32 million acres as Kenai Wilderness.
1985 1st Comprehensive Conservation Plan completed.
1988 Silak Wildlife Recreation Area established.
1989 Beginning of spruce bark beetle outbreak that kills Sitka, Lutz and white spruce on 1 million acres on the Kenai Peninsula and 4 million acres in southcentral Alaska.
1997 The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act establishes the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System and mandates that refuges “ensure biological integrity, diversity and environmental health”.
2003 Centennial of the National Wildlife Refuge System: 100 years since the creation of Pelican Island Refuge by President Theodore Roosevelt
2010 2nd Comprehensive Conservation Plan completed
Today. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s wealth of habitat, scenery and wildlife draws a half a million visitors a year, more than any other wildlife refuge in Alaska. You can stay on top of events and news at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page.
In 1899, wealthy railroad magnate Edward Harriman arranged for a maritime expedition to Alaska. He brought with him an elite community of scientists, artists, photographers, and naturalists to explore and document the Alaskan coast.
The Harriman Alaska Expedition explored coast of Alaska for two months, from Seattle to Siberia and back again.
He contacted Clinton Hart Merriam, the head of the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy at the United States Department of Agriculture, and one of the founders of the National Geographic Society. Harriman told Merriam that he would cover the expenses of scientists, artists, and other experts who would join the voyage. He asked Merriam to choose the scientific party.
Merriam held a flurry of meetings and sent out dozens of telegrams. He organized a broad range of experts: arctic experts, botanists, biologists and zoologists, geologists and geographers, artists, photographers, ornithologists, and writers.